‘Guts of the Sea’ dir. On-Par Productions
Artist Terry Setch, 79, is an avid beachcomber often found mumbling and stumbling through the grayscale surroundings of Wales’ industrial coastline. Exploring the battle between land and sea, he is fascinated by society’s tumultuous relationship with nature.
A Film By: On-Par Productions
Sound: Andrew Gough
Editors: Josh Williams, Andrew Gough, On-Par Productions
C8: The credits note that ‘The Guts of the Sea’ is a film by On Par Productions, which is your production company. Do you feel that it is easier to develop a brand for a company name rather than as an individual director?
OP: I think it depends on the individual. We’re not precious about personal credits as we work as a close team at On Par and our individual roles frequently cross over during projects. If we personally credited ourselves then our individual names would appear next to numerous roles and we don’t think it’s necessary to keep patting ourselves on the back. We prefer to use the On Par name to draw attention to the company as a whole.
C8: How did you come across Terry Setch and what made you want to tell his story?
OP: It was the classic scenario in documentary filmmaking where the story finds you. My art teacher, Bob Wallis, invited me back to my old school to give a workshop to the students. Over lunch Bob was reminiscing about his time at Art College in Cardiff and in particular his favourite lecturer, Terry Setch. He encouraged me to approach Terry to make a film about him. I was initially dubious as I’m frequently told by people that I should make a film about their crazy Uncle or a guy that lives on their street with a unique personality trait. The list is endless. I decided to trust Bob on this one and did some research into Terry Setch and his work. I instantly fell in love with his style and what the work stood for. I’m a huge fan of Pollock and Turner and both of their influences are present in Terry’s art. Terry has been painting the same area of coastline in South Wales for over 40 years now. As a filmmaker it was incredibly inspiring as Terry has an underlying political message of environmentalism and the effects pollution has on our coastline.
C8: How did you initially approach Terry and was he involved in any of the preliminary creative conversations about the film?
OP: I found Terry’s email on his website and enquired about meeting up to chat over coffee. His wife Dianne replied (at 79 years of age Terry says he doesn’t really do the Internet). She arranged a meeting for us and it turned out his studio is only a few streets from On Par’s studio. The best stories are always right on your doorstep. Terry welcomed us into his studio and offered seats but refused one for himself, he prefers to stand when in discussion with others. It soon became apparent that he wasn’t your average pensioner; he is a man still full of energy and a love for what he does, he lives to create; I describe him as 79 years young. As I stared at these massive pieces that filled his studio Terry and my business partner Rich discussed Breaking Bad. Terry is a big fan of HBO TV Series but also confessed to watching TOWIE occasionally. The latter he describes as trash TV, “even great minds need to shut off for an hour or two a day,” Terry said. The relationship was cemented and we decided to film over two days. We accompanied Terry one morning during a regular beachcomb session in Sully before heading to his studio in the afternoon to film him at work. In addition to this Terry took us to the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Bristol where his work was being exhibited. We conducted an interview with Terry, seating him in front of one of his huge artworks that hung in the gallery. This provided the perfect setting for Terry to reflect on his work in the setting where the general public comes into contact with it.
Although Terry was involved in the conversations about the filming process he did not have any creative input into the film. As a filmmaker you want to give the subject as little creative input as possible in order to capture a true reflection of their character and story. Terry never told us how we should portray him or his art.
C8: During the shoot what was the biggest obstacle you faced and how did you overcome it?
OP: The shoot was pretty stress free and we didn’t come across any notable problems, none that I can remember. The biggest obstacle came in the edit. Terry had covered a range of subjects in his interview so it proved difficult to structure the narrative of the film as everything he spoke about was really interesting. We knew we wanted to portray Terry as a man full of energy, humour and passionate for his work; the rest was up in the air. The film took about six months to edit on and off as we had commercial commitments that took preference. However, the freedom to return back to the edit here and there worked in the end as we had a fresh approach each time we went back to the project.
C8: You edited the film alongside Josh Williams and Andrew Gough. How did you split the duties between three editors?
OP: Josh started the edit before he moved into a post-production job at Gorilla, a post-production house in Cardiff. Initially he chose the best shots and arranged the interview into relevant subject matters. From there he began to weave an initial narrative. He would often present Rich and I with different variations of the edit only for us not to feel it was quite working and not being able to pinpoint exactly why. This decision was mainly down to my indecisiveness nothing to do with his work; the final film retains a lot of his initial cuts.
Rich picked up the edit a few months after Josh’s departure. He focused on the structure of the narrative, presenting me with a range of options of where the story could go. I still couldn’t quite figure out what it was we were trying to say, and more importantly how we were going to say it. There were so many options. During a quiet period in our schedule Andrew and I decided to re-watch the last cut, determined to finish it. We decided to take out any thing that was too much based in art theory and make it purely about Terry and his creativity. Andrew made the final changes, which was mainly deleting chunks that were deemed unnecessary and for some reason it all seemed to click into place. Looking back at it this should have been obvious but I think that was an essential part of the process and the film is better for it.
C8: What do you think makes for a good collaboration?
OP: Good collaboration is vital for filmmaking, even the smallest of films have probably been made by two or more people. You need to be able to share your vision while also being open to other people’s opinions. I don’t think it’s necessary that you view the film in the same way, what’s important is the discussion you and your collaborators have and the decisions you make. Rich and I question each other about things all the time when we’re making films but that’s great as it forces us to explain why we made that decision. Our extended collaboration has made me a better filmmaker.
Sometimes it’s being able to trust someone to make decisions for you. For instance with the sound design Rich and I gave Andrew notes but essentially left him too it, probably offering up notes afterwards. This was also the case with the soundtrack. We enlisted the help of our friend Carwyn Ellis. We have collaborated with Carwyn on a number of projects for his band Colorama (I highly recommend giving them a listen). We showed him the film and gave a small amount of direction with regards to tone but the finished product is in essence Carwyn’s response to the film and Terry’s character.
Essentially it’s about working with people you enjoy spending time with, share things in common and when the shoots done you want to go and have a beer with. It’s a bit like a relationship essentially and Rich and I have been in a filmmaking relationship for nearly 10 years now so something must be working.
C8: What did you shoot on and what was the reasoning behind this choice?
OP: We shot on a Canon 5D Mark II. Why? Because that’s the best camera we owned at the time. As it was self funded the budget was minimal so didn’t want to spend money renting cameras. We’ve since bought a Sony FS7 and would happily re-shoot the film with that but you have to draw a line. I may notice a difference but I’d say 90% of audiences wouldn’t.
I love cameras and lenses and would happily spend thousands on them if I could but I think it’s best not to get bogged down with equipment. You can essentially shoot and edit a film on a smart phone now, what’s most important is making sure you have a good story. If then you can get a good camera then great but it’s not always a necessity.
C8: You’ve shot various music videos and commercial promos. What is the difference between your approach to those and a documentary piece?
OP: Essentially it comes down to the brief. Commercial projects always have a brief that needs to be fulfilled in order to keep our clients happy. Commercial projects will nearly always take priority, as they pay the bills and allow us to invest in new equipment. I’d like to say we treat all projects exactly the same but that’s impossible to do. We always treat the documentaries and music videos very preciously as they are our babies but inevitably they’re the ones that have the smallest budgets.
C8: What advice would you give to emerging documentary filmmakers?
OP: Story is key to any film, no matter how short. What is the story and how are you going to tell it? Think about your audience, what would they want to see in your film?
Never underestimate the importance of sound; it’s at least 50% of your film. I get sent films all the time and very often they look great but sound awful, I’ll switch those off almost immediately, bad picture, especially in documentary, is forgivable.
C8: What is next for Toby Cameron and On Par Productions?
OP: We’re about to have our busiest time of year commercially; we’re pretty much booked up until October. It’s quite a mixed bag as between now and then we’ll be filming at some music festivals, venturing to Ibiza for a fashion video and travelling to other less exotic places such as Swindon to shoot a health & safety video. We have fourteen projects that we’re working on so not as much time for creative projects. However, we do have a few passion projects up our sleeve that we’ll work on whenever we get a spare second; one other short portrait film, a short fictional film and several features that we’re developing.